The European Response to Net Zero
For years, countries in Europe have been at the forefront of sustainable energy and building development; despite that, 75% of European households have a poor energy performance rating. According to the European Academies Science Advisory Council, “climate neutrality by 2050 requires renovating more than 90,000 homes - per week”
There are a large number of buildings in Europe that have been around for many years, in some cases, centuries. These buildings would have been converted to electricity at some point and will now need to evolve once again to meet policy and energy standards. Obviously there have been many more built to “yesterday’s” conventional standards with poor building envelope efficiency and a dependence on fossil fuels. The buildings of the near future will need to be able to produce all the energy they demand, making every new and existing building “Net Zero” by 2050.
Geothermal is an ancient, green, renewable energy solution that pipes extremely hot water up from the Earth’s core to be used for heating or converted into electricity. In the past it has been used for radiant heating in homes, businesses, and greenhouses, and even under roads to melt snow.
Iceland is well-known for its advanced geothermal energy development, but surprisingly it’s Italy that leads the pack in the industry throughout Europe. The first geothermal power generator built in that country was in 1904, and they remained the only one to develop this energy solution on an industrial scale until well into the 1950’s. Now there are over 130 geothermal power plants across Europe and that number is expected to more than double in the next couple of years. What took 70 years to develop is about to leap-frog from prolonged R&D to massive scale virtually overnight.
Our entire valley has a high potential for geothermal drilling, making it a viable energy solution for our homes and businesses and adding another geological similarity between the Okanagan and Italy.
Unfortunately, Canada and specifically BC is the only country along the Pacific Rim that is not generating power from geothermal sources. We are missing out on a huge opportunity, because the temperature difference between piping from the Earth’s core up into the cold, northern climates makes geothermal power in our region even more powerful than plants built to the south. Now, there are over 100,000 direct use installations across the country, meaning individual buildings have their own geothermal piping that supplies heat or electricity to the building itself.
We have the opportunity to build large industrial geothermal power plants that supply power and heat to thousands of homes all at the same time. Clean, green, renewable energy to every home,
business, and civic building that does not add millions of tonnes of greenhouse gas to the atmosphere every year.
The Passive House concept was developed in the nineties by Professors Bo Adamson and Wolfgang Feist in Germany. The very first Passive House pilot project was built in Darmstadt-Kranichstein in 1991 as a way to construct a house that did not depend on grid based fossil fuel electricity and heating. While not currently the top building standard in Europe, it is none-the-less the most popular sustainable certification opportunity in Europe and across much of the world.
At the time the concept was being developed, various European governments were collapsing and conventional energy plants were becoming unstable and unreliable. The need to reliably heat and power their buildings independent of municipal resources became the mother of invention and from it rose the Passive House concept - a formula that is about to become the gold standard in our region, more than 30 years later.
“A building standard that is truly energy efficient, comfortable, affordable and ecological at the same time. Passive House is not a brand name, but a construction concept that can be applied by
anyone and that has stood the test of practice. Yet, a Passive House is more than just a low-energy building”
The Passive House standard can be achieved by planning your home to have deciduous tree shading, pre-cooling of the fresh air intake, keeping windows open at night to allow cool air to circulate before it warms up in the morning (night purging). Architectural details like natural ventilation, building envelope air-tightness, mechanical ventilation heat recovery, insulation, breaking thermal bridges, creating passive solar gains, and use of internal heat sources are important factors in creating a Passive House certified building.
“Scientists, designers, and architects talk about drawing inspiration from nature in an aesthetic sense. We have a much more accurate, purposeful objective. It’s not just making it look like nature, but something that really contributes to greening cities.” - Koichi Takada
There’s a good chance you’ve seen the Ikea commercial that came out a few years ago… enter young girl, find a rickety old desk lamp next to a pile of trash on the side of the street waiting it’s inevitable journey to the weekly curbside garbage collection and sent to a landfill to spend all eternity. Girl picks up rickety lamp, takes it home in her wagon and gives it a new life as her accompaniment and companion. The “Ikea man” comes on to say “many of you feel happy for this lamp, that is not crazy. Reusing things is much better” in his distinctly Swedish accent.
This commercial was an about-face attempt to quell the outcry from the 2002 Spike Jonez directed commercial evoking sympathy for the discarded lamp, then to be told “many of you might feel bad for this lamp, that is because you’re crazy! It has no feelings! And a new one is much better!”
The greater public was not impressed, suggesting that Ikea was clearly contributing to wasteful consumerism in a critical time in climate change by over-consumption. Eventually realizing the error of their ways, they changed their marketing tactics 16 years later to include a young, innocent girl child, a vision for the future; to right the wrong caused by the adult before her. This child realizes that if something still works, it should be given new life not tossed in the trash.
Once a multinational retail corporation has taken the onus to produce messaging for the masses that encourages re-using an old item instead of purchasing a new one, even if that means fewer sales for them, we know the culture has motioned towards a shift.
So how do we support a circular economy in the housing industry? “In our current economy, we take materials from the Earth, make products from them, and eventually throw them away as waste – the process is linear. In a circular economy, by contrast, we stop waste being produced in the first place.” (Ellen MacArthur Foundation)
The type of material you use to build your house plays a big role, and how often a house is renovated will also play a major role. The more a home is renovated - the more toxic material is removed and dumped into the landfills where it will never decompose, instead it will be either buried or incinerated.
If you use a material like Hempcrete to build your house, you can actually re-use or compost the building envelope material (Which is simply hemp and lime) by either crushing it up, adding water, and re-applying in a new form on the house or crushing it up and adding it to your compost pile or
garden. If the homeowner wanted to renovate a house built with Hempcrete, they would simply use a reciprocating saw to “cut out” the section of wall to be removed, build a new form according to plan, and use the old crushed up Hempcrete (and water) in the new application.
Hempcrete is a natural, non-toxic building material composed of hemp hurds, lime-based binder, and water. The hemp is grown in Manitoba, the lime is mined in Alberta, and your timber likely comes from BC; now you are really endorsing a circular economy formula in your next home build project.
Using as many previously-used products, materials, finishes, appliances, and furniture as possible is also a great way to support a circular economy. Likewise, if you are planning a renovation and have items, materials, products, etc that can be reused by someone else please consider donating them to the Habitat for Humanity ReStore on Skaha Lake Road here in Penticton. All donations are tax deductible and you will be issued a receipt on donation to include in next year’s tax return.